Press freedom continued to grow as it had since the overthrow of President Alberto Fujimori in 2000. But as in other big Latin American countries, there was a difference between conditions in the national media, based in the capital, and the media in the provinces, where politicians and officials continued to threaten and attack journalists who criticised them. In some places, such as the northeastern city of Iquitos, where at least five instances erupted, the situation was even more delicate.
But in Lima, the Fujimori era, when the opposition media was constantly harassed, faded further. However, President Alejandro Toledo’s rule was strongly contested, as shown by his party’s heavy defeat in local elections in November.
The government was indirectly implicated in several media incidents. A recorded phone conversation revealed that a top official, who later claimed he was acting on his own initiative, put pressure on a newspaper owner to stop attacking the government. Leaflets criticising the media handed out during a pro-government demonstration recalled the methods of the Fujimori days. But these remained isolated incidents.
The return of democracy also enabled light to be shed on abuses committed during the years of fighting anti-government guerrillas. Significant progress was made during the year in two cases - the murder of US journalist Todd Smith and the disappearance of Peruvian journalist Pedro Yauri Bustamante.
New information on a journalist killed before 2002
Pedro Roberto Villacorta Cotrina, one of the suspected murderers of US journalist Todd Smith, was arrested on the Ecuadoran border on 3 November 2002. Todd, who worked for the Tampa Tribune, was killed in 1989 while investigating links between the Shining Path guerrillas and drug trafficking in San Martín department. The enquiry into his death found that his killers thought he was an agent of the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).
New information on a journalist who disappeared before 2002
Former national intelligence chief Vladimiro Montesinos was charged on 4 October 2002, along with 42 members of the armed forces, with kidnapping and murdering Pedro Yauri Bustamante, a presenter with Radio Nacional de Huacho, in the coastal town of Huacho, in 1992. He was seized at his home on 24 June that year by the Grupo Colina paramilitary group set up by Montesinos and then killed at a nearby beach, though his body was never found. The journalist had exposed abuses by the security forces during the anti-guerrilla campaign.
10 journalists physically attacked
Joaquín Planas Morelly, prefect of Loreto department, attacked radio reporter Darwin Paniagua, of the Iquitos-based La Voz de la Selva on 14 January 2002 when he was questioned about an accusation made against him by the opposition. He tried to hit Paniagua and destroyed his tape-recorder. The Peruvian press freedom group Instituto Prensa Y Sociedad (IPYS) said it was not the first time the prefect had set upon a journalist.
Christian Alberto Aoki Flores, of the TV station Canal N, was attacked on 19 February by a security guard working for the town council of San Isidro (Lima) while covering the eviction of families from their homes. His leg was broken in two places and he could not work for three months. Town officials apologised for the incident.
Darwin Paniagua, of La Voz de la Selva, was attacked on 14 May by knife-wielding youths of a group close to the Loreto Patriotic Front (FPL), who also attacked the radio’s van and its driver. Paniagua, who was hospitalised, was covering demonstrations marking a national strike organised by several trade unions. The local head of the FPL apologised to the radio station.
Josefina Cáceres Bolivar, of Radio Yaraví based in Hunter (Arequipa department), was knocked down on 19 July by a car whose occupants snatched a bag containing her equipment. The station said it could have been a petty crime or else revenge for her reporting on crime and politics.
Henry Ramírez, of Televisión Nacional del Perú (TNP), Luz Martínez, of the TV station Frecuencia Latina, and Perla Villanueva, local correspondent for the TV station Canal N, were attacked on 5 August in the northeastern city of Trujillo by employees of a firm who were protesting against non-payment of their wages. Villanueva, who criticised the police failure to intervene, said the attack could have been by delinquents who infiltrated the demonstration.
Josué Ibarra Julca, a photographer with the daily paper La Industria, was attacked in Chimbote on 26 August by militants of the Acción Popular party while covering a dispute between supporters and opponents of the town’s mayor, Julio Villanueva Ferrero, in a battle to succeed him in the job.
A dozen journalists were beaten back by police on 24 October at the national congress building, where a former top official had said he would go to settle a score with a deputy. Juan Carlos Sánchez, of Radio Comas, and Juan Carlos Matías Sánchez, of Frecuencia Latina, received serious head wounds. An enquiry into the police behaviour was opened. Four days later, the Radio Comas journalist got telephoned deaths threats to him and his family.
Three journalists threatened
Mabel Cáceres Calderón, editor of the fortnightly magazine El Búho, received a package with a threatening message on 26 March. She had already had two threats after she wrote articles about nepotism and irregularities in the running of San Agustín National University in the southern city of Arequipa.
Nancy Villacorta Pérez, of Iquitos station Radio 10, was threatened on 28 June by six women from the Arriba Loreto movement as she arrived at her office. They accused her of campaigning against their candidate, July Pinedo, in the city elections in November. The journalist had expressed doubts on the air about Pinedo’s ability to run the city. In September, she got more threats after she spoke in a programme about the tangles that some members of the Unidos Por Loreto (UNIPOL) party had had with the law.
Juan Sánchez Olivas, of Radio Melodía, based in Huaraz, announced on 5 August he had been regularly threatened with violence, including death, after investigating corruption by local authorities.
Pressure and obstruction
Leaflets attacking journalist Nancy Villacorta Pérez, of the Iquitos station Radio 10, were distributed in the town of Nauta in February 2002. She said this was done by associates of the mayor, whom she had criticised for embezzlement.
Luis Alberto Cuellar Alanoca, of the radio station APQ and correspondent of Radio Programas del Perú, was targeted by the mayor of Atico, Milton Medina Urday, arrived drunk at the journalist’s office and insulted him in front of witnesses on 26 March. The journalist had criticised the mayor for not keeping election promises.
Nicolás Lúcar, presenter of the programme "La Revista dominical" on the station América Televisión, was given a three-year suspended prison sentence on 8 April and ordered to pay 20,000 soles (6,700 euros) in damages for "aggravated slander" of the president of the national congress, Carlos Ferrera. Lúcar had broadcast an interview in January 2001 with someone who accused Ferrera of having links with disgraced former national intelligence chief Vladimiro Montesinos. The journalist was ordered to present himself to a judge each month during his sentence.
The regional board of the Loreto department refused on 9 April to give the radio station La Voz de la Selva information about its members’ salaries and its budget for the year on grounds that it was confidential material.
A deputy of the opposition APRA party revealed on 24 June the content of a phone conversation allegedly between Salomón Lerner, head of the state-owned Financial Development Corporation (COFIDE), and Moisés Wolfenson, owner of the newspaper La Razón, in which Lerner put pressure on Wolfenson to stop attacking the government. Lerner resigned the next day, citing personal reasons.
Journalist Alvaro Vargas Llosa, who was being sued for defamation and "harming the reputation" of businessman Adam Pollack, was found guilty in his absence on 25 July, having failed to respond to court summonses since 22 February. In November 2001, he had denounced irregularities in government negotiations about a military contract and said Pollack, an associate of President Toledo, had taken part in them without authorisation.
Vargas Llosa went into hiding, saying there was a plot against him, and there were several irregularities in the legal proceedings. In 2001, he had resigned in a spectacular way from Toledo’s presidential campaign.
Leaflets accusing the media of sensationalism and being "in the pay of Fuji-Montesinism" were distributed on 13 August at a demonstration to greet the president’s wife, Eliane Karp, at Lima airport.
They accused the dailies La Razón, Expreso, Ajá, Ojo and El Chino, radio stations Radio Programas del Peru and Cadena Peruana de Noticias and TV stations América Television, Panamericana Televisión and Frecuencia Latina of "destabilising the democratic government." The next day, the state paper El Peruano carried a headline saying "The media destabilises the country." Enrique Zileri, head of the Peruvian Press Council, said this amounted to "a declaration of war."